Let’s get this straight at the outset. The character’s name is Static. The name of the show was Static Shock. Please stop getting this wrong! Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Moving on.
So, Static’s backstory was redone for it’s inclusion in the new DC universe, with his original origin in the Milestone universe. It’s not unusual to change or tweak origins for a new continuity. Heck, the last time the Milestone and DC universe met was prior to Flashpoint and the current post-New 52 DC Universe as it was integrated into the regular DC universe…and then promptly not used since DC Comics really just wanted Static given the successful integration with the DC Animated Universe of the show. So now, with a lot of other legal issues out of the way, the Milestone universe is set to be re-integrated in the same way as the WildStorm universe and characters when Jim Lee signed on with DC. (Certainly not the first time DC has done this but it was the first time in decades, having scooped up Quality and the original Charlton Comics heroes.)
However, there is one part of the alteration to the origin of how Virgil Hawkins got his electrostatic powers that is of course being hotly debated, which means I’m getting drawn back into politics as the modern political discussions are again invading storytelling. (Sadly this will not be the last time this week and I apologize to everyone who comes here to avoid that stuff.) Granted, the Milestone Comics, meant to target and speak to urban black youths, always had social issues as part of its DNA. However, since I’m the type of guy who tries to get all sides (at least from people I know aren’t talking out of their backsides) I think I understand the specific problem. The general source of complaints is that now Virgil isn’t caught in a gang fight but was taking part in a Black Lives Matter rally when the experimental gas hit everyone. There are defenders and not defenders and before I give my thoughts I grabbed one of each from the people I follow on YouTube to better frame the two opinions.
On the defense side we have Comic Drake. While I often find his shows interesting I don’t always agree with his points of view because we’re two different people with two different world views. Shocking, I know. On the other is Eric July, also known as Youngrippa 59 on YouTube. While Drake usually discusses comics on a variety of issues July is more of a social and comic commentator, a musician with geek creds. Note that both videos contain swearing, but my commentary won’t because I can only control my projects. However, please watch both because context matters around here.
Catch more Comic Drake on his YouTube channel.
Now before you read the words of another white guy who has never been to an urban black neighborhood let’s here a counterpoint from a black person. Eric “Youngrippa59” July had his own thoughts on the altered backstory when the comic initially came out. He was not happy with the changes made either.
Catch more Youngrippa 59, including daily live shows, on his YouTube channel.
Here’s the main issue I think critics have with the change in backstory. There is a difference between the two reasons Virgil was in the right place at the wrong time. The Black Lives Matter organization is often controversial for what they stand for. (I wonder if these are one of the “bad actors” Drake referred to?) Their whole seems to be anti-police. Now I’m not defending things like being pulled over because they don’t believe a black man could have a nice car. I’ve heard these stories for years. The numbers of black people killed by white comics is actually questioned by research but this isn’t a political site and I’m only going over what the critics say regarding this particular change. I really don’t want to see the comments turn into a political discussion even though I know it’s unavoidable, so let’s do the full disclosure schtick and then you can decide if you care what I think or not.
Around here we push back against racism but we don’t fight the race war. The race war is no longer about fighting racism but fighting the race war and keeping us separate as the human race. It’s like humanity created their own Tower Of Babel situation and I don’t care. We’re all people, listen to Dr. King and start living like that’s the truth rather than going on about how the rest of the world isn’t like that. Well maybe it should be but it won’t if we don’t start acting like what matters isn’t the color of our skin but the content of our character. That includes not coming down on interracial relationships or convincing biracial children to deny half of themselves to continue the racial divide. (If we’re going to join hands as spiritual sisters and brothers those of us not biological relatives are going to be…holding other things too.) It’s my general opinion that skin color is no different than hair or eye color and the fact that we ignored that for thousands of years just to have yet another excuse to hate each other is asinine and idiocy of the highest (or lowest, depending on your ranking system) caliber. I’ve written about black heroes I grew up with and would like to see come back…if Hollywood actually cared about getting older properties correct instead of their re-imagining bullcrap to appease the “everything for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” crowd who wants everything dark, cynical, and fanshipper approved. That’s another topic but now that I’ve said my peace here’s how it applies here.
This is the cartoon version of Static’s origin. It’s slightly different in that the tear gas isn’t experimental (I haven’t read the comic outside of the “Worlds Collide” crossover and a special issue that leaned more towards the show) but it does cause a hidden set of experimental gas created by Milestone’s answer to Lex Luthor and recurring villain on Static Shock, Edwin Alva. It was Alva’s gas that cause the “Big Bang” that turned the gang bangers and a few other people in the neighborhood into “bang babies”, most of which used their powers for evil, with only Virgil using them instantly to become a hero while Rubber Band Man would eventually become a good guy as well after reforming. The show follows Static and a few other heroes (including his friend Ritchie who inhales some lingering gas on Virgil’s clothes and slowly develops a superintelligence for tech, leading him to become Static’s partner Gear) dealing with bang baby villains and a few other victims of experimentation, plus occasionally hanging out with Batman and the DCAU Justice League, to protect Dakota.
And there is the lead-in to the big difference in the commentaries. One of the criticisms levied against both the Black Lives Matter movement in general and the namesake organization specifically is that despite the name only white cop on black civilian crime is the focus of their rage. Completely ignored is black on black crime, including gang violence, and the state of black neighborhoods in general that leads to gangs, drug dealers, dead kids, and prostitution. Basically the only way you can get out of these areas is to sell drugs there, become a rapper or a sports celebrity, or die–so goes the viewpoint to people living there, who are sometimes among those critical of the organization and movement for that reason along with the looters that burn businesses both black and white while robbing them blind allegedly in the name of black victims and reparations. While racist cops were a factor in life in Dakota (less so in the cartoon), Virgil’s origin involved gang violence and what the neighborhood was doing to itself. Virgil in the comics was there seeking revenge with the gang fight as a cover. The cartoon doubles down on this with its reasoning for Virgil being there.
In Static Shock Virgil was being constantly recruited by one gang in particular, while for reasons not explained he had picked up a bully from the rival gang, F-Stop. Because Virgil’s mother had been killed during a city-wide riot years earlier Virgil wanted nothing to do with the gangs. After one particularly brutal by Kids WB’s limits beatdown at F-Stop’s hands the other gang saw a chance to FORCE Virgil to be there armed to take out F-Stop. It was not Virgil’s decision but he didn’t see any way out of it. It was when he got there that he ended up throwing the gun into the river just before being spotted by F-Stop, as seen in the above clip, leading to the bang baby gas exploding when the tear gas canister struck a set of tanks containing the bang baby gas, leading people to believe the tear gas was somehow responsible. (Perhaps it was a combination of the two gasses? I haven’t seen the full episode in a while. Also, I think that’s the most times I’ve ever used “gas” in a sentence.) It wasn’t corrupt or hate-driven police that sparked everything but the type of gang violence, racist gang violence if the skin color of the two sides are any indication, that put everyone where they were and covered with the gas, and outside of trying to stop a gang war, the police were not directly responsible for the new type of metahuman (DC’s term for people with unnatural superpowers).
Also remember one key detail that critics of the change pointed out if you want to make some positive message about the protestors: in the original comic and the show this led to most of the bang babies becoming criminals. Rubber Band Man just wanted revenge for his music getting stolen, there were kids talked into joining other recurring villain Ebon’s new gang that Virgil had to reach the conscience of, but most of the baddies were villains, gang members and that one disgruntled child star who took to crime. Even if they didn’t join Ebon’s group they still committed crimes or sought their own revenge without Rubber Band Man’s reforming. The big exception was the cartoon’s version of Blood Syndicate, the “Nightbreed” who for some reason now can only see in the dark or something. That was a strange addition. And the majority of those villains were minorities, given the neighborhood where the fight took place and the two gangs at the center of the gas release. Are the BLM protestors going to follow the same route or and will Virgil be the only hero or will all the new versions of bang babies become villains, and how will they explain it? The writers may be shooting themselves in the foot given that the narrative is that the protestors are so in the right that they were “allowed” to ignore Covid restrictions to voice their protests that everyone else had to follow. How the other bang babies will be portrayed is going to be rather important.
So to simply write this off as ignorant racists is to not really address the heart of the protest against the change from gang war to anti-cop protests as the source of commentary. Maybe the word “political” is too open-ended, too limiting in discussing the actual problem. It’s more the nature of the politics and how it can negatively affect the storytelling by coming off as more interested in preaching a message than telling a good story. There’s a line between theming your story around a topic versus pushing a particular point of view that needs to be considered. Making someone think about an issue and hear a side you usually don’t isn’t a bad thing. However, this is a side dominating the discussion without the other side even allowed to plead their case because it’s easier to frame as bigotry and thus silencing ALL opposing opinions. That’s why there are people unhappy with the change from “commenting on the violence our kids are going through” to “the police are evil and must be shut down” as the political commentary the creators are now going with. How they treat the bang babies will decide if this is an interesting discussion or another Ignited situation.